Quigley, Seraphic Fire and New World Symphony join forces for a stellar “Carmina Burana”

By Devin Cholodenko

Baritone Elliot Madore was a standout in Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana,” performed on Saturday night in Miami with New World Symphony and Seraphic Fire. Photo courtesy of Promethean Artists

Carl Orff’s epic cantata, Carmina Burana, quickly became a concert mainstay after its 1937 premiere in Frankfurt, and is perhaps most recognizable for its vaulting first movement, the O Fortuna, which has lodged itself in pop culture as a film score, ad jingle and rap sample.

Less familiar are the more than 20 contrasting middle movements, through which the listener wanders for most of the work — pastoral musical scenes invoking meadows in the coming of spring, jovial drinking songs in a tavern, music reminiscent of medieval courtly love, and much more. To lose oneself in these moments, which a well-measured performance allows, is the great pleasure of experiencing Orff’s masterpiece.

On Saturday night at Miami’s Arsht Center, conductor Patrick Dupré Quigley led vocal ensemble Seraphic Fire and the New World Symphony in a performance of Orff’s magnum opus that gave listeners all they could want from every part of this indelible work. Whether a movement called for intimacy, spectacle or profundity, Seraphic Fire, New World, and the soloists fit the mood precisely and convincingly. Quigley treated large sections cohesively, yet within these, contrasts in color and dynamics led to a captivating reading which was ultimately effective and moving.

Working alongside a focused and passionate New World ensemble, vocal ranks were bolstered by choristers from the Miami Civic Chorale, Florida International University, Florida Memorial University, Florida Singing Sons, Miami Dade College and the University of Miami. Their collective energy and emotional engagement greatly intensified the tutti passages, while soloists Rebecca Myers, Brad Diamond and Elliot Madore sang with evocative expression and nuance.

Madore, who sang the baritone solo, stole the show on more than one occasion. His singing stood out, not only for its exquisite melodic line and rich color, but for its embodiment of the theatrical character of the work. From chant-like incantations of spring to falsetto declarations of love, Madore created a great number of intimate moments with the audience.

After sauntering through the middle sections, at the reprise of O Fortuna, Quigley led the ensemble at full steam ahead, but with a firm grip on the air of roughness and total abandon, closing the night to raucous applause with an immediate standing ovation.

The first half of the evening opened with a performance of Ralph Vaughn Williams’s choral and orchestral Serenade to Music. Written in honor of a fellow Briton, conductor Sir Henry Wood, the 1938 work was sung beautifully by Seraphic Fire and featured lovely instrumental passages, in particular a shimmering string line over poignant harp.

Clara Schumann’s Concerto in A minor, Op. 7 followed the Williams and featured an energized performance by pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason. Composed and premiered by Schumann at age 16, the work pairs forceful angular passages to cantabile melodies. Kanneh-Mason approached the work with a confident and percussive touch which thoroughly communicated the music’s intentions, particularly well in the forte passages. Melodic sections were incredibly crisp and articulate, though perhaps at the cost of some nuance.

Particularly appealing was the second movement, Romanze, in which principal cellist Victor Huls joined the soloist in a sentimental duet. Finishing strong in the final movement’s tempestuous dance rondo, Kanneh-Mason’s performance was enthusiastically received.

The New World Symphony performs Coleman, Barber and Tchaikovsky 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 21 and 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 22 at the New World Center in Miami Beach. nws.edu

Devin Cholodenko is a composer and violist from New York City. He is currently pursuing a doctorate at the University of Miami in composition and theory.

Posted in Performances

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Sun Jan 15, 2023
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